A handful of Beduin from the unrecognized village of Wadi Al-Na'am stared grimly ahead on Thursday as the yellow Volvo caterpillar tractor headed down the sandy hill towards the shell of a recently built, still roofless house.
Several policemen and Israeli officials escorted the heavy vehicle on foot and directed its driver towards the house. The policemen were polite and soft-spoken but distant, and seemed to look through the villagers rather than at them, as if the villagers were not actually there.
The driver raised the trough of the tractor and in a minute or two knocked down the cinderblock walls which had been freshly painted white on the inside and covered with yellow plaster on the outside.
It was the seventh home demolished in Wadi Al-Na'am that morning. A similar number were knocked down in nearby Assir at the same time.
All of the homes had just been built and were apparently not yet occupied.
They were demolished according to an administrative order issued by the Ministry of Interior. Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) attorney Banna Shoughry-Badarne explained that this was a special demolition order which did not require court approval. It was meant for homes that had been built without a permit and had been unoccupied for at least 60 days.
In virtually all of the cases in both villages, the homes had been recently built for young sons who wanted to marry. Villagers told The Jerusalem Post that the custom among the Beduin is that a young man will not marry until he has a home to bring his new wife to.
In Assir, the father of one the sons who lost his home, Mahmud Walid, said he had served in the army for many years. "Now, all the government is doing is creating hatred between Israel and the Beduin? I would never let my son serve now. This is no way of dealing with problems."
Meanwhile, in Wadi Al-Na'am, Beersheba lawyer Moti Yosef raced down the hill after the demolishers, holding out a file which contained a ruling by Beersheba Magistrate's Court Judge Yisrael Akselrad, suspending the demolition order against his client's house for one week. The ruling was issued two days earlier.
"This morning, I received a phone call from my client at 8:25, telling me that the Caterpillar tractor was already in the village," he told The Post. "I made phone calls to various officials. One of them refused to speak to me. Another said he would deal with the matter and get back to me but he did not call again." In violation of the court order, the house was destroyed at 8:50.
"Afterwards," Yosef said bitterly, "they can't understand why the Druse [in Peki'in] shot at the police."
The Interior Ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.
The father of one of the demolished homes, Salame Abu Habak, said his son was 19 years old and wanted to marry. "I asked the Beduin Authority to give me land that I could build on," he said. "A supervisor said he would come out to discuss the matter, but never did."
Asked whether he would rebuild the house despite the demolition, he said, "We have to build. We will not stop living because of this."
Hussein al-Rafiya, the head of the unofficial Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages, told The Post, "The state sends out people to destroy the homes of people who have no other solution to their housing needs. I went to speak to all the ministers to ask for their help in resolving the problem. We asked them to provide land where it would be legal to build. They did not suggest anything."
"These actions incite the youth," he continued. "It will turn them into terrorists. They will never forget the sights they have seen. It will remain in their hearts forever. By what right does the government tear down the homes of citizens who carry Israeli identity cards?"